Measurement of Novel, Drinking Water-Associated PFAS in Blood from Adults and Children in Wilmington, North Carolina

By Nadine Kotlarz, James McCord, David Collier, C Suzanne Lea, Mark Strynar, Andrew B Lindstrom, Adrien A Wilkie, Jessica Y Islam, Katelyn Matney, Phillip Tarte, M E Polera, Kemp Burdette, Jamie DeWitt, Katlyn May, Robert C Smart, Detlef R U Knappe, and Jane A Hoppin
Environ. Health Perspect.
July 28, 2020
DOI: 10.1289/EHP6837


From 1980 to 2017, a fluorochemical manufacturing facility discharged wastewater containing poorly understood per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Cape Fear River, the primary drinking water source for Wilmington, North Carolina, residents. Those PFAS included several fluoroethers including HFPO-DA also known as GenX. Little is known about the bioaccumulation potential of these fluoroethers.


We determined levels of fluoroethers and legacy PFAS in serum samples from Wilmington residents.


In November 2017 and May 2018, we enrolled 344 Wilmington residents of age into the GenX Exposure Study and collected blood samples. Repeated blood samples were collected from 44 participants 6 months after enrollment. We analyzed serum for 10 fluoroethers and 10 legacy PFAS using liquid chromatography-high-resolution mass spectrometry.


Participants' ages ranged from 6 to 86 y, and they lived in the lower Cape Fear Region for 20 y on average (standard deviation: 16 y). Six fluoroethers were detected in serum; Nafion by-product 2, PFO4DA, and PFO5DoA were detected in of participants. PFO3OA and NVHOS were infrequently detected. Hydro-EVE was present in a subset of samples, but we could not quantify it. GenX was not detected above our analytical method reporting limit (). In participants with repeated samples, the median decrease in fluoroether levels ranged from 28% for PFO5DoA to 65% for PFO4DA in 6 months due to wastewater discharge control. Four legacy PFAS (PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS, PFNA) were detected in most () participants; these levels were higher than U.S. national levels for the 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The sum concentration of fluoroethers contributed 24% to participants' total serum PFAS (median: ).


Poorly understood fluoroethers released into the Cape Fear River by a fluorochemical manufacturing facility were detected in blood samples from Wilmington, North Carolina, residents. Health implications of exposure to these novel PFAS have not been well characterized. 

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